1940s: New opportunities and new owners

In April 1940, Germany established the so-called Skagerack blockade, which effectively eliminated Sweden’s access to the world’s oceans. Sweden eventually negotiated an agreement to allow a few of Nordstjernan’s vessels safe passage through the area for the remainder of the war.

Nordstjernan lost ten vessels during the war. A total of 128 crewmen lost their lives. Yet at the end of the war, Nordstjernan had 24 vessels – more than it had when the war broke out.

In the 1940s, the Consul General’s business group was further strengthened through the acquisition of the Lindholmens Varv shipyard in Gothenburg. During the same period, the company added a number of engineering companies to its roster, including Karlstads Mekaniska Werkstad/Kamewa and its world-famous propellers.

In 1947, the Consul General decided in his will to donate 80 percent of the capital in Nordstjernan to a foundation for public benefit, to primarily promote science, and a minor share of the capital to a family foundation. The family foundation was given the multiple-vote
shares in Nordstjernan. On August 3, 1958, the will and donation entered into force.

Click here to learn more about the foundations


1950s: New management – unchanged strategy

In the 1950s, the shipping company continued its expansion. A fourth line, known as the Far East Line, was established and several new vessels were ordered. The Consul General’s oldest son, Axel Ax:son Johnson (1910–1988), often referred to as the Mining Engineer, had spent the war years and a period after the war in the US. Following his return home in 1952, he gradually began to take over the role as CEO of Nordstjernan. His younger brother Bo Ax:son Johnson (1917–1997) returned from overseas during the same period and became CEO of Nynäs Petroleum.


1960s: Eastward bound

Upon the Consul General’s death in 1958, his business group comprised some 100 companies in Sweden and abroad with a total of 22,000 employees and annual sales of SEK 1.4 billion.

Mining Engineer Axel Ax:son Johnson succeeded his father as Chairman of Nordstjernan. The strategy was to expand and internationalize Nordstjernan’s existing companies.

The first wave of digitization moved to Sweden from the US in the early 1960s and the computer company Datema was founded in 1964 to provide the entire group with administrative data processing services.

Relations were developed with the Soviet Union, which was undergoing a period of “thaw” under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. Opportunities were opening up to purchase oil and coal, and Lindholmens Varv began accepting Soviet orders. Nordstjernan and Salénrederierna merged their fruit and vegetable import businesses and established JS Saba. In the late 1960s, Nordstjernan began to shift its focus to container traffic – once again acting as a pioneer in the conservative shipping industry.
In 1966, the company ordered four container vessels at a very high price and amid uncertain demand. But the gamble paid off.


1970s: Economic downturn and oil crisis

The economic upturn seen in the wake of the war tapered off toward the end of the 1960s. Nordstjernan’s smaller engineering companies were having trouble keeping up with the major international manufacturers in areas ranging from marine engines to paper machinery.

This economic downturn was exacerbated when the oil crisis hit in 1973. All of Nordstjernan’s operations were impacted – shipping, engineering, oil and steel. The company was forced to abandon its cardinal principal of total independence. It began discussing the possibility of listing parts of the Group in order to gain access to external risk capital.

In the mid-1970s, Nordstjernan acquired a block of shares in Stockholms Rederi AB Svea, which in turn owned one-third of the ferry operator Silja Line. Over time, Silja Line would expand to become a core business for Nordstjernan.